A bill introduced in the Senate on Tuesday could be the first step in expanding a popular spouse scholarship program.

The proposal by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., would require a study of the My Career Advancement Account, or MyCAA, scholarship program’s usage. It’s one of several provisions aimed at reducing unemployment among military spouses.

Kaine staff members, speaking on background, told Military Times that MyCAA expansion is a goal of the bill, even though such an expansion isn’t specifically stated.

MyCAA provides scholarship assistance for civilian spouses of active-duty members in paygrades E-1 to E-5, W-1 and W-2 and O-1 and O-2. Spouses whose service members are on Title 10 orders, and who are within those paygrades, also are eligible.

It’s a maximum education benefit of $4,000, with an annual fiscal year cap of $2,000.

The scholarship can be used only to pursue licenses, credentials or associate degrees geared toward assisting spouses in their portable-career paths. It doesn’t cover bachelor’s, graduate or general-purpose associate degrees, nor can it be used for school-related costs outside tuition, such as books or room and board.

A number of military spouses over the years have asked that the program be expanded in scope and eligibility, and Kaine’s staff members said they had heard the same requests for varying expansions.

“There will have to be an analysis of current uses of the program to ensure it’s expanded in a way that’s both cost effective and will not hurt access for any spouses currently using it,” said Miryam Lipper, a spokeswoman for Kaine.

This proposed legislation calls for a two-part assessment: Find out whether eligible spouses are aware of the program, and find out participation levels among those who qualify. With that information in hand, the Government Accountability Office would recommend ways to increase both awareness and participation among eligible spouses.

According to a 2015 Rand Corp. analysis of MyCAA usage, based on a 2012 DoD survey of active-duty spouses, 18 percent of spouses who were eligible for the MyCAA program had used it in the previous 12 months. More than half of those who didn’t use it were unaware of the program, leading Rand to recommend that DoD and the services step up their efforts to promote the program.

A DoD spokesman said at the time that DoD had begun an outreach effort in 2014 to increase awareness among spouses.

When the program launched in 2009, it was open to any military spouse and could be used for a variety of educational programs. So many spouses registered that DoD shuttered the program in early 2010 because the budget in place couldn’t meet the demand. When DoD restarted the program, it was limited in scope and eligibility was limited to spouses of those in junior ranks.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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